‘The Ice Bear’ by Helen Dunmore

‘Love of Fat Men’, one of my favorite short story collections, is a bleak landscape of a book, inhabited by shifting characters. Facing transition, not quite fitting in, men and women fall in and out of focus, sharply defined and then blurred, questioning who they are… Dunmore leaves a lot of space in her stories, a territory, which as Blanchot writes, “ can’t be printed anywhere.” In ‘The Ice Bear’, Ulli is on a Baltic ferry crossing, at the end of her summer travels.  With only enough money left to buy two buns, she sits across a café table from a newlywed missionary, coming from “holy people with sweet cake and their shiny pails….” Her attention veers from the straight-laced man, to a group of drunken Finns on the slippery deck. Where does she belong, gulping schnapps or sharing breakfast with an ice bear “wooly and white but they’ll claw you up for the use of their mate and their young”?

From Love of Fat Men, Viking, 1997

‘Love of Fat Men’ by Helen Dunmore

It took me a long time to start to think I could write myself, and even longer after I started to write poems to dare to break into prose. Helen Dunmore showed me you could do both. ‘The Love of Fat Men’ is one of her ‘Ulli’ stories:  about a cool, but emotionally honest Finnish girl. I’ve spent a lot of time in Finland too and recognise the cold grey landscape and Ulli’s trenchant, open character. Helen Dunmore gave me my first good review and was unfailingly generous to me and many others throughout her career. She died recently and I miss her

From Love of Fat Men (Penguin, 1997)

‘Short Days, Long Nights’ by Helen Dunmore

A brilliant little story by a 37-year-old Helen Dunmore, who at the time had published three books of poetry. All her novels, story collections, young adult novels, children’s books, later poetry collections and awards were ahead of her. It would make even the hardest-hearted reader sad to read this story now, three months after her death at the age of only 64. A young woman wakes up to find a strange man in her bed. There’s beauty and precision in the way Dunmore describes the woman’s actions. You believe in her right away and because you believe in her you care about her, you’re interested in what happens to her, you’re invested in her. You want to know who the man is and what happened between them and what will happen between them. That they’re in Finland is a detail that is dropped in and it might be neither here or there, but the snow-covered street outside the window comes alive in a couple of brushstrokes. Dunmore would use the title of the story again as the title of her fourth collection of poems published the following year.

(London Magazine, February/March 1990)